Why the Rush?

Congratulations, Class of 2010. The worst is over. You’ve got your college acceptances in hand, and all that remains is one hard decision before you can relax and enjoy your remaining time at Andover. But before you settle into your lawn chairs and stop doing homework, we’d like for you to consider one more option: taking a year off from your formal education, as both of us chose to do for this past academic year. The so-called “gap year” has long been popular among students in Europe, where undergraduates typically study for three years rather than four. But in recent years, more and more American high-school graduates have embraced the concept as an opportunity to take a hard-earned breather from the drudgery of schoolwork, a step outside of the classroom and a look into the real world that awaits them when their studies conclude. The process is simple. All you have to do is choose your university, and then ask your school for permission to take a year off. That’s right: most colleges will be happy to let you defer your admission for a year, and all it takes is an email. Some colleges, such as Princeton, are even encouraging admitted students to do this. What do you do on a gap year? Well, that’s the fun part. You can do just about anything. You can get a job and earn some money while getting valuable experience in the workforce. You can travel to far-away lands. You can volunteer for that really cool NGO, or intern for someone who inspires you. You can work on a political campaign. If you want a taste of college, you can have that, too. You’ll have at least one classmate in almost every major city in the U.S. Or, you can do as “New York Times” columnist Nick Kristof suggests, and go abroad to teach. In a column earlier this month titled “Teach for the World,” Kristof makes the case for gap years as an opportunity for public service and language-learning, and even proposes his own program that would send young Americans overseas to teach English and essential life skills. (As Kristof devotees, we can only wish that such a program had been proposed and implemented last year.) And what about that pile of books you’ve always wanted to read? Haven’t you always wanted to learn how to cook? Remember how you were going to start doing community service? And what about your plan to learn how to play the guitar? That happened, right? Phillips Academy students know, as well as anyone, the difficulty of making all of your goals and ambitions fit into your busy schedules. The gap year absolves you of your excuses – your homework, your grades, your club meetings and sign-in. You are free to pursue your hopes and dreams at leisure. So right now, you have to ask yourself a worthy question. When might you otherwise have the time to pursue those passions you haven’t been able to find time for? To quote President Obama, “If not now, then when?” If you do decide to take a year off, here’s the advice we wish we’d had: First, divorce yourself from the academic calendar. When you graduate in June, you’ll have at least fourteen full months before you have to be back in school, not twelve plus a summer vacation. Use those first few months wisely, and you’ll find yourself well-prepared to get the most out of the rest of the year. Second, have a plan. Even if all you want to do is sit around and play Farmville, do it deliberately (although, admittedly, we wouldn’t recommend that.) Don’t let the year slip away. Third, make some money. You might not have another chance to do so for a while. And finally, don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone. This is your chance to challenge yourself before college does it for you. If you’re like us, Andover will have given you some ideas of what it is you love to do, and a gap year is the perfect time to test-drive those passions without the added stress of schoolwork. After talking to many of our peers on other gap-year adventures, we can only come to one conclusion: certainly not everyone needs to take a year off before college, but everyone has something to gain from doing so. If a gap year is something you’re interested in, please email us. Ask questions. We can put you in touch with other gap-yearers from 2009 and years past. Tap into the network of students who’ve taken time off, and you’ll find an invaluable resource for planning your own adventures. For us, spending a little time outside the Hallowed Halls of Academia has helped us to get even more excited about returning to them, and to anticipate from experience exactly how much our college educations will prepare us for what comes after. We believe that as much as PA prepares you for college, there’s no substitute for some time spent in the real world. Ironically, taking some time off from school might be the best investment you ever make in your education. Harrison Hart and Anabel Bacon graduated in 2009, and were editors of the Commentary section. This year, Harrison has worked at King’s Academy in Jordan and lived in Mumbai, India for two months. Anabel has worked the whole year at Whole Foods, taken several classes, and volunteered for Partners in Health. In the fall, they will attend Dartmouth and Columbia, respectively. Their email addresses are and